Housing and zoning issues pit residents against parish council
"Even before Hurricane Katrina, housing was scarce, but since the storm the need for housing in St. Charles Parish has increased," Earl Matherne, coastal and zoning administrator for the St. Charles Parish Planning and Zoning Department said. "We often get complaints from residents wondering how a permit got issued. It's all based on zoning."
Matherne points out that when the parish did a land use study in 1980 to determine what zoning residents wanted in their community, not enough people took advantage of the opportunity to voice their concerns.
"Now, when we issue permits, we get a lot people saying, ‘how did this business come up right next to where I live?' or 'why did they get the permit to do that?'" he said. "It's all in the zoning requirements; if someone has followed all of the zoning requirements for the area where they want to build or open a business, our office will issue them a permit."
Matherne says sometimes decisions to issues permits by planning and zoning are overruled by the council.
"For example when Ritchey Stanley wanted to put an R.V. park in Ama, a lot of people were upset," he said. "Our office didn't issue the permit he wanted because the property he wanted to put the trailers on didn't fit the zoning requirements for that area."
Matherne says Stanley went before the planning and zoning commission board, and again he was told that he couldn't get the permit because his plans to open a recreational vehicle park didn't fit zoning criteria in Ama.
"Mr. Stanley took the opportunity to go before the parish council and they overruled planning and zoning recommendations," he said. "The council voted to approve the trailer park anyway."
A similar zoning issue came up at the Nov. 5 council meeting. Some Destrehan residents living on Carolyn Street wanted the parish council to stop apartments from being built in their neighborhood.
"The council can make decisions based on our recommendations, but they have the authority to overrule our decisions sometimes," he said. "The owner of the land where the apartment complex on Carolyn Street is supposed to be built has to get the zoning changed first from R-1AM to R-3 to allow that to happen."
Matherne says that zoning is important and residents don't come forward like they should until it's already too late.
Ellie Mae Gorman, 68, who has lived on Carolyn Street in Destrehan for 40 years, says she doesn't want the duplex coming up next to where she lives.
"I'm not happy with what they’re trying to do," she says "I look around and I've got apartments in the back of me and now some are going to come up directly across the street from me and right next door."
Gorman also complained about extensive flooding in her yard since the property owners began to prep the land for the building.
"Mr. Ram (Councilman Ram Ramachandran) came out to my house to see about the situation and someone came out that reads the water meter and told me that a water line was broken on the property and that's why my yard was flooding so much," Gorman said. "I lived here a long time and it's normally quiet and peaceful, but not anymore."
Gorman says since apartments started coming up all around her, she's seen lots of changes.
"It used be nice to live back here," she said. "I raised all my children here and my husband just passed away recently. Now, with so many new people moving into the parish, it's loud and I'm afraid to sleep at night.
"I often hear a lot of arguing and there's parties that go on just about every weekend late at night, and it's hard for me to sleep."
Matherne says there is not much that planning or zoning can do to stop development.
"From what I understand, the owners had someone else filling out the paper work and they applied for R-3 when they really should have put down R-2," he said. "If it goes through and they get the R-2 zoning, they're only allowed to build one structure with two dwellings."
Matherne says the ordinance to change the zoning at the property located near Gorman's house was tabled and has to go back through the planning commission, which meets Dec. 6. Matherne says if the planning and zoning board approves the recommendations, allowing the owners of the property to change the zoning to build, residents living on Carolyn Street will get another chance to voice their concerns at the Dec. 17 council meeting.
"My neighbors are scared to speak out about this," Gorman said. "But I have to let someone know how I feel because I don't want that complex built right next to my house."
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